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Last week at QWC‘s Meet the Publishers industry seminar, Bernadette Foley of Hachette Livre Australia confirmed what I’d suspected for a while, and that is that Australian publishers are still largely unfamiliar with the opportunities (some would say imperatives) in digital publishing. When I say digital publishing, I’m not just talking about e-books. I’m talking about all aspects of the publishig value chain which might be affected or improved with digital initiatives. These might include e-books, but they also include book marketing and author promotion, distribution, community and brand building and product development (ie. other forms of digital content like audio books and mobile content) All the things Brent Lewis of Harlequin described as technology enablers in his presentation to the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York earlier this year.

The tide is definitely turning, and Bernadette confirmed this when she spoke of the fascinating panels she attended at Sydney Writers Festival last week. Clearly some Australian publishers are taking steps to explore these opportunities, some tentatively, and some with confidence. Yet I worry that these changes aren’t taking place fast enough for authors.

Why worry at all? After all, what will happen to authors if the Australian publishing industry takes its sweet time in embracing and exploiting technology enablers. For one thing, despite my optimism, the ability of authors to commercialise their writing will be tied to publishers for a while to come. There are opportunities even now for writers to go direct to audiences through blogs, podcasts, e-books, alternative reality games, self-publishing and other channels. Some of these blogs, podcasts and self-publishing ventures have paid off in spades. But, by and large, authors still depend on publishers to help them refine, distribute and market their content, and the distribution/marketing/branding side of the publishing business is the side publishers can dominate.

Perhaps Australian authors and publishers need their own Tools of Change for Publishing conference, a watershed event to create energy and momentum that will carry us forward… together.

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A couple of years ago I bought a cool Threadless shirt that said, “This was supposed to be the future… Where’s my jetpack?”

Well here it is! Swiss aviator Yves Rossy (aka “Fusion Man”) leapt from a plane at 7,500 feet before gliding to earth using a jet-powered wing. You can watch a video of it here:

 

The dream of the fully-operational jetpack is a white elephant in science fiction, which makes this impractical and utterly wonderful. Thanks Joseph (at Working as Designed) for the heads up!

 

//flickr.com/photos/surrealmuse/4757004/

Amid the doom and gloom predictions about the inexorable decline of poetry sales in bookstores comes this ray of sunshine from Galley Cat:

Earlier this month, I noted that the boom in YA science fiction and fantasy sales compared to the adult market for those genres. A little bird with access to Nielsen Bookscan tells me the effect can be seen in other genres as well. “Has anyone noticed that YA is also home to one of the bestselling (if not the bestselling) living poets in the country, Ellen Hopkins?” this source asks.

Hopkins is the author of four verse novel that deal with topics like drug addiction, child abuse, and suicidal impulses; according to my source, these books have registered more than 500,000 sales on Bookscan alone… and 7,000 copies in just one week earlier this month. “Hopkins isn’t an anomaly, either,” the email continues. “Sonya Sones has over a quarter-million Bookscan sales across four YA verse novels since 1999.”

I think the key point of the article is that poetry for kids isn’t stocked in the poetry section of the bookstore, it’s found in YA, just like genre novels. In fact, genre is not really a distinction for young readers at all. Perhaps when we don’t pre-program kids with common adult assumptions about certain kinds of literature they’ll be more inclined to embrace it? Reminds me of the Sultana Bran commercials “Don’t tell them it’s healthy and they’ll eat it by the boxful.”

[Image source: surrealmuse http://flickr.com/photos/surrealmuse/4757004/ – CC licenced: Attribution | Non-commercial | Share Alike]

It’s been a hellish sort of week so I’m a little behind with my feeds, but tonight I finished the last two instalments of Sara Loyd’s outstanding essay A book publisher’s manifesto for the 21st century.

However, Part V of the manifesto touched on something I’ve been thinking a lot about the last little while – deep niches, an idea espoused by Michael Jensen in his Journal of Electronic Publishing article The Deep Niche. This is the notion that, at any given moment in time, the collective audience demand for a book or subject may represent quite a viable market for a publisher, yet that audience is constantly dynamically shifting. The point is to be the resource for a particular genre or subject when people are interested in finding it. This shifts the focus of publishing from the book as product, to the book as solution to consumer problem. Jensen says:

Traditionally, a book is published, and it’s marketed while it’s “fresh.” Publishers historically think of a six-month to three-year life cycle for a new publication. Bookstores generally return books to the publisher within six months, because of the premium on shelf space, and libraries rarely purchase “backlist.” Publishers implicitly presume that the “life cycle” of interest in a publication is constrained by these realities, and is driven by our promotions and the book’s new presence in the marketplace.

But things are different in the always-on Web. I may stumble upon a reference to a 2002 blog entry that fits my current enthusiasm. It links to a 1998 publication that exactly fits my interest. I sample it, and then I purchase it, independent of space ads, reviews, or other press promotion. If I’m in the midst of an enthusiasm, the search engines become my map to information, which may lead me to knowledge.

As Sara Loyd pointed out in Part V of her essay, this would suggest the opportunity for publishers is around vertical niches of content:

In this context publishers would focus value around subject or genre expertise and intimate, direct market knowledge, providing editorial and marketing functions beyond the merely ‘technical’. In this scenario publishers would need to move back further into the territory of filter and editorial consultant and to re-focus energies on their (oft forsaken) role as career nurturers for authors (a space currently shared at least by agents in the trade space). They would also need to develop brands around subject or genre niches so that their platforms are able to gain traction over those developed by competitors and to become far, far better at direct sales and marketing.

I’m encouraged to look around the marketplace and see that this is already starting to happen. eHarlequin have been in this space for a while now, building up a robust social network around their titles and authors and establishing themselves as the online go-to site for romance readers. Given my own reading tastes, I’m also personally hopping from toe to toe waiting for the new Tor site to be launched, which editor Patrick Neilsen Hayden describes thus:

We know that the site will use a blog-like architecture to present an ongoing stream of news, opinion, and observation from various Tor people, myself included, about the SF and fantasy events of the day—and about perhaps less-current things that are nonetheless of interest to SF and fantasy readers, such as medieval siege engines, the Van Allen Belt, hoisin sauce, XKCD, and the novels of Georgette Heyer. We know that there will be non-Tor bloggers also posting to the “front page”; in fact we’ve already recruited several in order to ensure coverage of particular niche areas. (Some of these individuals will be familiar to Making Light readers—wave hello, Bruce Baugh—and we haven’t finished recruiting, either.) We know that the site will also feature new original fiction on a regular basis, illustrated under the supervision of art director Irene Gallo, and that these original stories—free of DRM, offered as part of the blog feed and also Available For Your Convenience in a variety of other formats—will have their own associated open comment threads, just like everything else on the blog. We know that there will be lightweight “social networking” features for registered users, including the ability to form mutual-interest groups through tagging and the ability to create journals and/or discussions of their own. Most of all, we know that the real point of the exercise isn’t to create yet another blog, but rather, a place and a context for the lively, ongoing, wide-ranging, and profoundly self-organizing discussions that have characterized the science fiction subculture since its earliest days.

Patrick and the team at Tor clearly get it. I guess it’s natural that genre publishers would be first to recognise and capitalise on the opportunities inherent in deep niches. I also expect academic publishers will see the benefits pretty quickly. But given the right digital platforms and information architecture, there’s no reason that every publisher couldn’t be racking up additional long tail sales through deep niches. However what it will require is a shift in their thinking about their backlist that I haven’t seen much evidence of so far. It will require an openness to search, and probably also a more direct relationship with the consumer market than publishers are used to having. Genre publishers get it. I’m excited to see who else will.

Gary Kemble alerted me to the fact that a few comments haven’t been coming through. I’ve just checked and there were a bunch trapped in the spam-catcher which I have now released. Apologies if you’ve commented in the last week or so and your message didn’t come through! Thanks Gary.

This is something of a test. I just installed a Facebook application that will hopefully update my blog feed to my FB profile automatically. There are a few of these apps around but none of them seem to enjoy a very bug-free state. I guess we’ll see if this works. If so, hooray for Web 2.0 me!

Scott William Carter has launched a fab new blog called The First Book, with interviews with debut authors. And Scott gets extra cool points for being a science fiction and fantasy author.

The First Book is a great source of inspiration and encouragement to emerging writers still struggling to find that first elusive book deal. Go support it! And if you are a recently published first-time author, contact Scott about an interview for the blog.

Along the same vein as Sara Loyd’s musings on “book as artefact”, Booksquare is asking the question “what does a publisher do?”

The idea of “publishing” is no longer a print book based model. As I noted above, the way consumers read is vastly different than it was even a decade ago, and if you’re paying attention to your Twitter account, it’s change, change, change, all the time. With this change comes new business models and relationships with authors.

If authors don’t view this first (okay second) salvo as a wake-up call from the future, they’re going to lose. Lose like the Writer’s Guild did in 1982. And again with every contract thereafter (including, if you want my opinion, with the current contract; SAG — the Screen Actors Guild — is trying to fight for more, we’ll see how that goes). Because if you believe that “publishing” begins and ends with a (print, bound) book, then you’re going to be one of those cars sitting on the side track while the big trains whoosh by.

Sometimes you might get to take a little ride, but mostly you’re just hoping to be noticed.

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently with industry types – publishers, agents and authors – about the changes that are coming, and the changes that are already here. Provided they can recognise it and adapt, authors have some wonderful opportunities before them. It’s kind of my job at Queensland Writers Centre to help them understand and adapt. I wonder who is helping publishers do the same?

And while you’re thinking about your book trailer, watch this trailer (which made me squirt milk out my nose) Thanks to PersonaNonData for the heads up!

Over at Quillo:Torque, the talented Jeremy Gordon is hosting a discussion about the merits of book trailers for authors.

Creators of book trailers need to be careful to evoke the mood and themes of the literary work, without hamstringing the reader’s visual associations by defining the look of each character. Who needs imagination when the word-image connections have already been set?

It’s an interesting topic and one I’ve pondered as a tool for author promotion. Jeremy’s right to point out the high costs of production. Not only that, but in the rather crowded channel of online videos how does one stand out or attract page views? If you attract views will it boost sales of the book or, like quirky tv ads, will it become more notable for the popularity of the trailer than the product it’s promoting?

For my mind, it’s about finding interesting ways to tell a story. (That’s what is most likely to make an impression and create that sought-after viral distribution.) This might be achieved through a short video, but it might just as easily be achieved through cheaper and ultimately more effective means. For example, check out Miranda July’s clever HTML presentation to promote her short story collection No one belongs here more than you. This little site was linked to all over the blogosphere and helped July achieve real momentum behind her book. She has even been able to update it, presumably for as little investment as she made to create the first one. One wonders if she’d spent $3000 on a book trailer if she would have achieved a similar result?

//noonebelongsheremorethanyou.com/